Crowdfunding and the community Jam Jar Cinema sets up ticket fund for key workers

Jam Jar Cinema finds new ways to serve the community while their doors are closed.

On 2 April 2020, two weeks after closing their doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Jam Jar Cinema launched a new crowdfunding drive: the Local Heroes Campaign. Through the initiative, Jam Jar hoped to raise enough money to give away 1,000 cinema vouchers to frontline workers which could redeemed when the venue reopened. And, in the process, they would provide local residents with a way of thanking their neighbours and supporting their friendly, neighbourhood independent cinema.

Fundraising efforts were kick-started with a donation from Jam Jar’s own reserves and the remainder of a National Lottery grant awarded by Film Hub North to support the cinema throughout 2019/2020. After only a few days, the Jam Jar team had smashed through their initial target. The Local Heroes Campaign is open for donations until 31 May 2020 and is now chasing a stretch target that will allow Jam Jar to offer further discounts to key workers in their community. You can follow their progress over at Crowdfunder.

   We believe that a trip to the cinema is unique – nothing else can beat it for sheer escapism. At the end of this, what we can offer people is joy. So we’re asking people to pay it forward for the people who have worked hardest during these dark days. Dan Ellis, Co-founder of Jam Jar Cinema

The outpouring of local support for Jam Jar is a fitting response to the cinema’s recent efforts to strengthen its place in the community by reaching more audiences, whilst still retaining its core values of being friendly, affordable and inclusive. In the past year alone they've refurbished existing spaces within the venue, added 2 new screens, showcased a wider selection of films, launched an experimental pricing model and began work to address building access issues. Their hard work has been recognised by both audiences and the wider sector: admissions were set to climb to nearly 80,000 in a year, and the Jam Jar team have presented the progress they've made at industry conferences such as This Way Up and the UK Cinema Association’s annual gathering.

In the round-up below, we cover Jam Jar's recent development journey and explore how staying community-minded has helped them strike the right balance in becoming not only a bigger, but a better cinema.

Bigger and better things

It’s been an eventful 12 months for Jam Jar Cinema: the cosy, community-minded independent cinema in the heart of Whitley Bay, a seaside town about 10 miles north east of Newcastle. After almost 8 years of audience development - a period that saw the organisation move into a permanent venue and make the switch to DCP and full-time theatrical exhibition - Jam Jar had built up a loyal following in North Tyneside and, in turn, had outgrown their one-screen home on Park Avenue. The original site had stood Jam Jar in good stead during the organisation's early years, and the team had transformed this un-loved spot on the high street beyond recognition from its previous life as Whitley Bay's job centre. But there was room for improvement: limited screen space struggled to accommodate the dual demands for more audiences and a greater variety of films, and a daunting staircase climb meant that the venue was inaccessible for some.

The team's response was to begin an extensive process of fundraising and business planning - including a research trip to CineEurope 2018 supported by Film Hub North’s Bursary Awards - where they laid the foundations for a series of ambitious expansion plans. By early-2019, they were in a position to begin. First would be improvements to the existing venue space and then an expansion into the adjoining retail unit - home to a long-vacant former Co-op store. Two new screens would add capacity and programming flexibility, an expanded bar and foyer would allow the cinema to serve as a social Hub and a new lift would provide access to audiences without the need to scale the 20-odd steps from street level. 

In addition to the bricks, mortar and sophisticated bits of engineering, Jam Jar had plans to expand their cultural offer and engage a wider group of audiences through targeted marketing campaigns. An Engine Award from Film Hub North would support the development of Jam Jar’s programme, ensuring that British, international and independent film featured prominently on the venue’s new screens. And the introduction of an innovative Pay as You Please ticketing scheme - think of it as a clever modern update on the historic “Jam Jar model” that gives the cinema its name - would mean that more people from the local community could enjoy the cinema on their doorstep.

   We understand that the cost of going to the cinema can be a real barrier for people. A choice of prices benefits so many locals and will hopefully encourage more people to try a film they might not normally go for. Dan Ellis, Co-founder of Jam Jar Cinema

When the Hub team visited Jam Jar on a typically drizzly summer’s day in August 2019, work on the two new screens was well underway and a healthy school holiday crowd had settled into the cinema’s existing auditorium for a matinee of Horrible Histories: The Movie. Jam Jar co-founder Dan Ellis guided us past the diary aisle of the old Co-op next door, beyomd the shell of a lift shaft and into one of the new screening rooms where a crew of three – including a member of the Jam Jar board – were labouring away ahead of the venue’s partial expansion in just a few weeks’ time.

The launch of Pay as You Please and Screen 2 in September 2019, followed by Screen 3 in December saw Jam Jar exceed expectations. They were welcoming more audiences and were on track to deliver a record 80,000 admissions in the year. Patrons were embracing the new ticketing scheme and enjoying a wider variety of films than ever. And further progress was made in early-2020 with the long-awaited lift now operational and work shortly due to begin on a new level-access entrance.

But March 2020 was an eventful time for everyone in the exhibition sector – for altogether more troubling reasons. As with cinemas across the country, Jam Jar was forced to close its doors and their building works are currently paused. It has, however, been inspiring to witness the venue’s continued resourcefulness in the face of considerable challenges. 

Successful crowdfunding requires a supportive community, and Jam Jar's commitment to audiences in Whitley Bay has cleared developed a loyal following in the town and beyond. The cinema has grown into a vital local asset, serving a growing and changing community of film fans - we hope they're able to open their doors to them once again as soon as possible.

Find out more about Jam Jar Cinema

Jam Jar Cinema have expanded their film programme and launched the Pay as You Please ticketing scheme with support from our Engine Awards. For more information of how we can help your next project, contact our team or visit our Exhibition Funding homepage.